by Carrie Bornstein
Last week, Carrie shared these words as she was honored at Mayyim Hayyim’s spring benefit, Soul/Life/Cycle:
My first job interview at Mayyim Hayyim was exactly ten years ago this Thursday; less than 48 hours before Eliana was born. At the time I couldn’t decide how I felt about doing a 9th month immersion. I kept going back and forth, but it turned out not to be my decision at all: she arrived two and a half weeks early. I can’t imagine what I would have thought at that time if one of my interviewers told me that a decade later my daughter would be standing up on this stage, telling her immersion story.
When I considered taking that job, I was seven years out of college and self-conscious about the fact that my longest tenure in any position was only two years. And here I am, ten years and three job titles later, knowing that decision was one of the best I’ve ever made. Thank you, Aliza Kline, for setting me up to succeed.
I’m still here because the work we’re accomplishing makes the Jewish world more beautiful, more welcoming, more respectful of our differences, more meaningful, more joyous. In my job, I hear from people who tell us they feel alienated in every other Jewish space, and yet feel at home at Mayyim Hayyim. My job includes the pleasure of interacting with the most wonderful board, staff, volunteer Mikveh Guides, and each of you who gives financially to keep Mayyim Hayyim strong and help us.
These ten years, I’ve seen a lot of joy and a lot of heartache. I’ve seen couples like Elisha and Sam, with whom I’m so proud to share the stage tonight, mourning in the grief of a miscarriage. I’ve seen the pain after stillbirth, failed IVF cycles, and women coming to immerse, month after month, trying to conceive a child.
One of them, Beth, shared the following with me:
My Mikveh Guide, Renee, was gentle and compassionate and let me cry all over myself when I needed to. Your immersion ceremony touched something deep inside me and it helped me forgive myself for the anger and jealousy I had been experiencing.
I’m a member of a complicated group; broken and sad at the happiness of friends, crying a little every time someone asks “When are you having kids?” It’s tempting to just harden yourself against the world of “fertiles” and withdraw.
Your infertility ceremony broke down a wall I had unknowingly erected around myself. When I read the words for the first time, I sat in my office and cried. Finally, someone understood what I was feeling and gave me permission to feel that way – to acknowledge my jealousy and my shame and to let it go. As I read the words, surrounded by the warm water, I felt the softening and the release of my cynicism. I emerged from this experience centered and peaceful…and for the first time in over a year, hopeful.
Sometimes these women and couples come back months or even years after their fertility struggles, this time full with pregnant bellies, to immerse in their 9th month of pregnancy. They come for a post-partum immersion with newborn in tow, and to celebrate the adoption and conversion of their child. Theirs are some of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen.
With all of these images in my head, three children of my own and no desire to bring home any more, I looked at my empty uterus and said, “Hey – so, I’ve been thinking…”
I’m now 19 weeks pregnant, carrying a baby for a Jewish couple in London. They were one of those heartbroken pairs for more than seven years, and they entrusted me to nurture their precious embryo for nine months so they can become one of the joyous ones when I return it to them in the form of a newborn baby girl. It never would have occurred to me to do this were it not for Mayyim Hayyim. You all have stood with me throughout this journey, you’ve cheered me on; your support has meant the world to me.
Our world is in rough shape in so many ways. I end up feeling helpless about it more often than I’d like to admit. And yet, all of you, through your support of Mayyim Hayyim, have helped to create a microcosm of otherworldliness. You’ve helped make sure that the Jewish community has a place where everyone can feel safe enough to be vulnerable, where we can pause to mourn our losses, and where we celebrate joy at every possible occasion.
I need your help to continue on this path into the future because the stakes only seem to be getting higher, and there’s still so much more we need to accomplish. We need to build our capacity to welcome the growing number of people wanting to immerse – well over 1,500 immersions this year. We need to publish a Jewish healing guide for people on a fertility journey. We need to create more immersion ceremonies. And we need to fully launch a national network to connect dozens of other mikva’ot that share our values, so no one needs to buy plane tickets for a Mayyim Hayyim-like experience.
When the board first said they wanted to honor me at tonight’s event, I thought, oh gosh that’s lovely, but I’m still the Executive Director and this is our biggest event of the year; putting on this shindig is a whole lot of work. I couldn’t imagine it in the midst of everything that needed to be done. But the co-chairs for this event – Meggan Levene, Sheri and Eli Gurock, and Jamie Bornstein: Oh my God, you guys. You worked so hard to prove me wrong. Everyone here is helping me celebrate and people even came in from Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New York, California, Chicago, Montreal, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Florida – just for this event. Tonight’s program book is filled to the brim with beautiful blessings and I’m going to enjoy reading it again and again.
Rachel Eisen, our Director of Annual Giving, you have remained shockingly unflappable as you made tonight happen. I’m so grateful you chose to bring your talent and skill to Mayyim Hayyim.
On her tenth birthday my daughter will recall the most positive Jewish memories of her life, and she’ll be able to count her experience at the mikveh as one of them. This isn’t just a cute story about a kid getting in the water. This is about how a positive Jewish identity gets formed. This is what we’re accomplishing here in Boston. This is what we’re accomplishing around the country. Imagine her world, our world, ten years from now, because of Mayyim Hayyim.
So thank you. Thank you for this honor tonight. Not only because it feels good – it really does – but because every dollar you’ve given in my honor and in honor of Sam and Elisha, will help create the world I know we all want to see.